Is vaginal douching harmful or beneficial? There seem to be this unsettling myth about the apparent “uncleanliness” of the vagina making rounds among the female folks, and the need to keep it “clean”, whatever that means.
In a bid to indulge this myth and keep the vagina “clean” most women resort to douching.
What Is Vaginal Douching?
The liquid mixtures usually used is a blend of water and vinegar; and sometimes peroxide, iodine and sweet-smelling flavours are thrown in especially for the commercial preparations. For self-made preparations, water mixed with some form of the soapy substance is usually used.
Among the various reasons people douche, the chief reason appears to be the misconception born of the afore mentioned “myth of vaginal uncleanliness”. Hence douching is seen as a way of cleaning the vagina, and in some cases giving it a sweet smelling scent.
Other reasons for douching include:
- To wash off menstrual effluent post menses.
- To wash off semen post sex as a surrogate to contraception [to prevent pregnancy].
- To relieve the symptoms of vaginitis
- To prevent STIs [Sexual Transmitted Infections] after sex.
- As a treatment for vaginal infections.
Health Implications of vaginal douching
Douching is a harmful practice that leaves a whole truck load of adverse health implications in its wake.
Most of these adverse effects result due to the following reasons:
- Douching alters the unique acidic milieu of the vagina consequently tipping the balance of its microbial ecology; the protective normal vaginal flora thus gives way to harmful organisms.
- The fluid used for douching while being pushed into the vagina mechanically dislodges organisms from the vagina and “jets” them into the cervix, uterus, and the fallopian tubes where they constitute some gynaecological nuisance.
The above two acting in concert, along with other factors, predisposes to the following health hazards:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Vaginal candidiasis
- Pelvic Inflammatory disease
- Ectopic pregnancy [ pregnancy with the baby growing outside the womb]
- Preterm labour and premature delivery when practised in pregnancy.
- Studies also show that there’s a possible association with a higher risk of cancer of the cervix.
- Acquired gynaetresia , a condition in which the vagina is “burnt” by caustic substances, forcing it to gum together leading to painful sex and in extreme cases inability of the penis to penetrate at all, at all.
Why you should not douche
Apart from the above-listed health implications, douching is unnecessary. This is as the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, a fit it is able to carry out by means of the “NORMAL” vaginal discharge. This “normal discharges” mechanically washes the vagina continuously keeping it “clean”.
Also, a group of harmless organisms in the vagina called Lactobacilli species prevent overgrowth of harmful microbes by virtue of their physical presence and also produce acid which keeps the vagina “sterilized” to a reasonable extent.
Apart from the self-cleaning function of the vagina which totally makes douching unnecessary, the reasons for douching are mostly untrue as douching does not.
- prevent pregnancy
- treat infection
- prevent STI
What to do instead
In situations of genuine vaginal “dirtiness”, manifesting as a foul smell, abnormal discharge, or itching, one should consult a doctor in order to receive the appropriate treatment.
Dr Chibuike Joseph Chukwudum is a doctor who Studied Medicine and Surgery at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. He is the former Medical Officer at Oakland specialist hospital,obosi.He also previously worked at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State.